The Obama administration has labeled its North Korea policy “strategic patience,” stressing that Pyongyang must make the first move to return to diplomatic negotiations. But after the revelations of a uranium-enrichment facility that can be used to fuel nuclear weapons and last week’s deadly artillery bombardment of South Korean territory, one would think patience with this policy has run out.
The Obama administration still has not put forth a coherent North Korea policy that gets beyond calling on North Korea to stop its provocative acts and return to diplomatic talks aimed at ending the country’s nuclear program. Indeed, the administration has declared that there is “no crisis” in policy.
It is bad enough that North Korea is shooting at an allied country of the United States where nearly 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed. But consider the implications of North Korea’s “ultramodern” fuel plant full of thousands of advanced centrifuges used for enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels. Reportedly, this is technology beyond what Iran is attempting to master to fuel its nuclear-weapons aspirations. The two rogues have collaborated on missiles and other arms. Strapped for cash, North Korea wouldn’t blink at selling to Tehran. Add to that a United Nations report released this month that shows North Korean trade in missiles and nuclear technology with Burma, Syria and Iran. The crisis is now.
Years and years of billions of dollars in South Korean and Western aid to Pyongyang - garnered through a pattern of provocation, negotiation and capitulation to North Korean demands - has sent the signal to the Kim family that they can get away with murder. Call it moral hazard on the Korean Peninsula.
Far from insulating North Korea from its actions, a cogent North Korea policy would meet Pyongyang’s provocations with consequences and present a vision for change in its leadership. Only when there is change in that regime will there be hope of ending this nuclear threat.
An honest policy would start from the premise that North Korea has no intention of negotiating away its nuclear program nor will China willingly play a constructive role vis-a-vis North Korea. As sure as the sun rises in the East, the mantra that “China must do more” is being bandied about by pundits. But the record has proved that China won’t “do more.” Any doctrine that outsources North Korea policy to Beijing is destined to fail.
China has been able to coddle and prop up its communist neighbor without facing consequences. When North Korea sank a South Korean gunboat in the spring, killing 46, China ran interference at the United Nations. In reaction to the island attack, Chinese state media featured North Korea’s version of events and even boasted of a new trade deal between the two. Yet the Obama administration’s diplomacy reportedly is focused on gaining China’s cooperation in pressuring Pyongyang.
Instead of politely asking for China to deal with North Korea, U.S. policy should present Beijing with uncomfortable consequences for its protection of Pyongyang. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has begun speaking about Korean unification. The U.S. president should endorse his vision of a united, democratic and peaceful Korea that respects the rights of its people. That is sure to rile China.
Proliferation experts assert that North Korea’s new enrichment facility was supplied by the remnants of A.Q. Khan’s black-market nuclear network, including North Korean front companies based in China. The United States should work actively to uncover and dismantle these networks and front companies through sanctions or other means. While some may view these actions as provocative, current U.S. policy is ineffective and runs the risk of North Korean-produced nuclear material proliferating or even falling into terrorist hands.
China has long served as the gateway for North Korea to the outside world and acts as a conduit for North Korean illicit activity ranging from missile proliferation to the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. The United States should take bold public action to target those Chinese financial institutions that are helping fund Kim Jong-il and his generals. A past U.S. effort to target Macau-based Banco Delta Asia - a key money-laundering center for North Korea - had great effect, as banks across the region fearing similar punishment cut their links with the regime. But that was abandoned by wishful diplomacy.
Years of moral hazard in Northeast Asia, where North Korea has been able to provoke its neighbors and China has been able to protect its client with impunity, have gotten us to a point of crisis. Fortunately, it is not too late to institute a principle of consequences for actions.
Rep. Ed Royce of California is the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade.